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Archivists, Collectors, Dealers, and Replevin: Case Studies on Private Ownership of Public Documents [Hardcover]

Elizabeth H. Dow

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Book Description

May 10, 2012 0810883775 978-0810883772
Today, government archivists and manuscript collectors are often in conflict over government-created documents that come up for sale out of private hands. Such manuscripts are often archival material that escaped government control, and government archivists want that missing material back to complete the historic record. Collectors and dealers, however, assert that since the government didn’t take care of their documents properly at the time of their creation, they lost the right to claim them now. This divide between government archivists and collectors has become especially acute for “trophy” documents written by a person of note or about a well-known person or event.

Archivists, Collectors, Dealers, and Replevin does not serve as a legal guide to the issues that arise in this divide; instead, it presents both sides of the conflict and examines them dispassionately. The book begins with an historical review of institutional and state-sponsored collecting and the care of historical documents in the United States. The review is followed by a selection of tales of theft and neglect in the past. The third chapter examines the origins and maturation of the archival profession in the United States, and the next discusses the phenomenon of collecting, both as a hobby and as an institutional activity. The fifth chapter provides a general summary of state and federal statutes on public documents in private hands, and with that background in place, the sixth chapter distills the perspectives of the various parties in the struggle. The seventh presents a series of case studies developed to evoke the complexity of these conflicts. The book concludes with steps that holders of public documents can take to avoid conflicts, as well as steps an archive can take to protect its collection.

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Editorial Reviews


This is valuable to any archival collection where public documents are maintained, acquired, and sought out. Future archival students will also benefit from the unbiased approach, respecting all sides of the situation. (American Reference Books Annual)

The first-ever book-length study tackles a controversial legal principle that the public is unaware of and that most attorney’s are only vaguely familiar with: Replevin. . . . Dow’s stature as a respected archivist and a Manuscript Society “in-law” puts her in a unique position to survey the replevin issue. . . . Dow succeeds in straddling the fence-conveying archivists’ passion for protecting their charges and preserving the historical record and conveying collectors’ and dealers’ passion for doing the very same thing. . . . Archivists, Collectors, Dealers, and Replevin is a thoughtful and well-reasoned explanation of both sides of the replevin issue-and heavily footnoted, as one would expect it to be. I wouldn’t say that Dow champions either the archivists or the collectors/dealers, but rather shows an admirable nonpartisan restraint that should serve both sides well. (Main Street Fine Books and Manuscripts)

Archivist, Collectors, Dealers, and Repelevin represents a signal contribution to the archival literature that deserves a very wide audience indeed. Beginning with the inspired cover illustration, Elizabeth Dow's engaging essay astutely explores the perennially dark and bloody ground of archival conflict arising from the presence of public documentaries in private hands. . . . Dow's book contains much of value to a great many readers. . . Dow's imaginative assortment of case studies alone will provide engaging fodder for enlightening class discussions on subjects ranging from acquisitions and appraisal to ethics and the law. (The American Archivist)

The book is very well researched, and the author has consulted a range of primary and secondary documentation. While the topic of the book is complex and multi-faceted. . ., the author has examined all aspects of the issue and described the problems with an attempt to get a balanced view. The author has a long and impressive career in archives and related fields and here has produced a very objective view of the problems and issues with lost public documents. This book would be suitable for archivists employed in the US public service, as well as librarians, historians and collectors with an interest in this area. (Collection Building)

This book does an admirable job of illustrating many aspects of a complicated legal situation, providing archivists, collectors, and dealers with insight, analysis, and practical advice. Well-written and to the point, this volume is highly recommended for archivists and dealers alike. (College & Research Libraries (C&RL))

About the Author

Elizabeth H. Dow directs the archives track in the School of Library and Information Science at Louisiana State University. She is the author of Creating EAD-Compatible Finding Guides on Paper (Scarecrow Press, 2005) and Electronic Records in the Manuscript Repository (Scarecrow Press, 2009).

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